Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature Standmount Loudspeaker Review
Mark Gusew is charmed by a very special edition of B&W’s popular standmount speaker…
Bowers & Wilkins
705 Signature Standmount Loudspeaker
AUD $4,999 RRP
Every now and again, Bowers & Wilkins introduces a Signature edition loudspeaker to the market with no small amount of fanfare. It’s the company’s way of showcasing its technology with a product that’s a bit special, but still accessible to the company’s fan base. Last month, two new Signature versions were announced from the B&W 700 Series range – the floorstanding 702 Signature and the standmount 705 Signature, the latter being the subject of this review. With a retail price of $4,999, it costs $1,300 more than the regular 705 S2 upon which it’s based.
Introduced back in 2017, the company’s 700 series sits nicely between the entry-level 600 series and the top 800 series Diamond – with pricing matched to their respective performance levels, naturally. The 705 benefits from a flow down of technology from the 800 series Diamond, specifically the solid body Tweeter-on-Top design. It’s been aptly called “a house for high frequencies” as it sits above the main enclosure, giving it a distinctive Bowers & Wilkins look. Yet it’s more than just a styling exercise because the tweeter body has been milled from a solid block of aluminium, creating a solid and stable platform for it to operate in. The shape and internal construction create an acoustically optimised housing said to be exceptionally acoustically inert.
Rather than using an exotic diamond material in the tweeter dome as seen in the 800 series, the 700 series sports a sophisticated two-piece 25mm so-called Carbon dome. This is actually a 30-micron aluminium dome stiffened by physical vapour deposition and has a natural breakup threshold around 47kHz, well out of human hearing range – although not as stratospherically high as the Diamond dome which breaks up around 70kHz. The same 165mm Continuum midrange/bass driver as the 705 S2 is fitted; this is a light yet rigid material unique to Bowers & Wilkins. The result of eight years of research, it has a special woven multi-layer composite construction with a highly controlled pistonic action, the company says.
As per other 700 series speakers, this Signature standmounter is a bass-reflex design with a rear-facing Flowport reflex port; this has a tapered inward profile with a multitude of small dimple indentations to smooth the airflow, thus minimising audible chuffing. Small foam bungs are included with the speaker, and these have a removable centre section so you can change the characteristics of the port. This is ideal for those who have to place the speaker close to a boundary wall.
As you’d expect, the 705 Signature has been optimised to work best on high-quality stands, so the matching B&W FS-700 S2 types were duly deployed. Each is 600mm in height and complements the loudspeakers both mechanically and aesthetically. It’s recommended that these hollow stands be mass loaded or filled with something like dry sand, but I wasn’t able to do so for this review.
There are two main upgrades done to the 705 Signature to justify its special Signature identity plate bolted to the back. The first is the special Datuk gloss cabinet finish. Bowers & Wilkins have sourced timber veneers, sustainably-sourced from Alpi, a specialist supplier from Italy. The dark wood grain pattern is unique to each loudspeaker, in the same way that no two trees are the same. Then it has nine coats of finish applied, including primer, base coat and lacquer which results in a beautiful lustrous high gloss finish. This alone makes the upgrade to the Signature model worthwhile in my view, as it looks sensational and better in person than the photos suggest. The speaker is great with its grill fitted, but when removed it shows off the bright metal trim ring around the mid/bass driver which integrates perfectly with the silver-finished tweeter surround.
Secondly, the crossover has been reworked with upgraded capacitors sourced from Mundorf, and larger heatsinking. Bowers & Wilkins claims that it results in a more polished, refined and involving sound. The crossover frequency isn’t specified, but a frequency response of 50Hz to 28kHz ±3dB is quoted, together with a claimed sensitivity of 88dB (2.83VRMS, 1m) which is the same as the non Signature model.
At the rear of the enclosure is a pair of speaker terminals suitable for bi-wiring, plus a pair of brass looking links that bridge the two sets of terminals. During my audition period, I also experimented with Cardas and Wireworld jumpers, as they improved the smoothness, transparency and detail in the high frequencies, bringing worthwhile gains.
The user manual suggests placing this pair of speakers on stands, set a minimum of 50cm from the front and side walls, and 1.5m to 3.0m apart. I positioned them in my usual spot with good results, 50cm from the front wall and a minimum of 1.5m from side walls, 2.3m apart, with lots of toe-in, pointing the tweeters at my ears. They were sensitive to being an equal distance from the front wall, so careful setup will reward the few moments that it takes. I used in-akustik and Wireworld speaker cables, and a variety of amplifiers including an Ayre EX-8, Norma IPA140 and Cambridge Audio Edge A.
This is a great sounding loudspeaker, one that gives a smooth and balanced sound, yet which is animated enough to convey the music’s impact and force. I found the midrange to be particularly natural, with excellent vocal rendition; human voices are carried with a subtlety and detail that makes music special to hear.
For example, Agnes Obel’s voice in Fuel to Fire was wonderfully clean and detailed, with a natural sheen and texture. Treble was commendably extended and delicate. Her piano sounded realistic, with much of the tonal expression and timbre of the real instrument. I heard impressive articulation and fluidity throughout the midrange, something that’s often missing in in some similarly priced designs but which is an essential element for good sound. I revelled in the beautiful tones of Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G major by Robert Cohen. The transition from the treble to the midband to the bass was generally seamless, with no peaks or troughs. This contributes to its even, open and balanced nature.
This speaker does a great job at resolving detail. Jacintha’s voice singing Dindi with only a piano as her backing was realistic, musical and unforced. As a result, I found myself listening to lots of piano tracks, basking in the clean sound and texture of this fine instrument. The 705 Signature seemed more realistic than many price rivals, particularly on Pure Comedy by Father John Misty where this instrument stayed distinct and clearly delineated from other things in the mix; it was never obscured by vocals and other instruments.
I found the 705 Signature’s bass impressive too – with the normal caveats of this being a compact standmounter that obviously can’t compete with larger price rivals like JBL’s 4312G. It has a crisp, slightly dry feel that’s not in any way bloated or slurred. At the same time, there’s a lot of headroom there, so you can really let your system rip and this speaker will soak it up pretty much without complaint. Lorde’s Royals was handled surprisingly well, even at very generous volume levels. The expression in the bass notes was fully resolved, making it sound more satisfying than some similarly sized rivals – although it couldn’t carry the very bottom notes as you’d expect. Needless to say, if you want things to get seriously seismic then B&W will happily to sell you a pair of 702 Signature floorstanders…
Despite its clean tone and excellent detail rendition, this little loudspeaker still satisfies the heart as much as the head. It’s a crisp, pacey performer that pushes the song along, rather than impeding it, as Jennifer Warnes’ Bird on a Wire showed. Despite the big drum sound being so dynamic and explosive, the B&W kept things on a tight leash. There was no sense of this speaker falling over its own feet to keep up with the action in the track. I felt the excellent tweeter helped here; there was never any sense of the high frequencies being spat out at the listener. Instead, cymbals sounded crisp and textured yet tonally smooth – about as good as you’ll get from any speaker not using a ribbon tweeter.
Another skill that this loudspeaker possesses is soundstaging. The percussion on the Jennifer Warns track came over beautifully located inside an expansive and three-dimensional soundstage. The triangle, bongoes, rattles, bells and cymbals all had a good deal of space around them, giving a well ordered and cohesive sound that filled up my room convincingly. On some programme material, it’s not quite as vast as rivals like Neat’s Ministra or ATC’s evergreen SCM19, yet this B&W is still a class act.
It’s always a concern when a manufacturer asks a noticeable price premium for a special edition product that’s not that different to the original upon which it is based. In the case of the 705 Signature however, Bowers & Wilkins has provided a genuine sonic upgrade as well as a finish that’s close to being the best in the business. The result is a truly special – treasurable even – loudspeaker that’s hard not to love.
The key to this speaker’s value is its great all-round ability; sonically it is highly accomplished in pretty much every respect, with no rough edges and a subtle charm that’s hard not to like. The 705 Signature is also a thing of beauty thanks to that immaculate and rare finish. Finally, its pricing still puts it within reach of many loudspeaker buyers. So what’s not to like?
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.